How many episodes of “As the Charters Turn” have you seen on the TV news. I’ve lost track. It’s a required part of doing comms for a charter-friendly school district. But they get to be hard to take…kind of the opposite of binge watching.
You know the setting, cast of characters, and plot, because it’s always essentially the same. School board meeting. Subdued, somber superintendent/board members proposing new charter school versus apoplectic opponents (usually union or union-fomented). The cacophonous cadence of “privatization” or “billionaires” every third word.
Although they’re public gatherings of the community, school board meetings are actually a pretty lousy place to tell the story of how a community is feeling about its schools. It’s mostly people with an axe to grind or a large, sign-waving throng that’s hyper-focused on one particular decision.
So the news stories from them can’t do anything but reflect that. And after seeing lots of these stories, I now tend to watch them like this.
It’s cringe watching.
But to be fair to local TV news, they do usually only have a couple of minutes to get everything in. And it’s typically a reporter who only occasionally covers education. The NBC station here in Denver has a dedicated education reporter who knows the issues and sources well enough to work context into his stories, but that’s a rarity.
So that’s what makes “Making the Grade,” the new partnership between Education Week and the PBS News Hour, so cool…and needed.
They just did the best episode yet of “As the Charters Turn.” Reporter Lisa Stark looks at the charter issue through the lens of the African-American community in Memphis, with the NAACP’s charter moratorium as the backdrop. And it’s a comms person’s dream—a full 8 minutes and 22 seconds of context and nuance, more conversations than sound bytes, and student voice.
In addition to the kids, Memphis parent Sarah Carpenter, who runs the Memphis Lift advocacy group, is just terrific in the piece, standing up for parents’ rights to choose a school for their children. Cornell Williams Brooks, the head of the NAACP, makes some very good points about needed charter reforms (although I’d argue that calling for a moratorium that keeps parents trapped in struggling schools is over-correcting).
And then there’s an utterly jaw-dropping conversation with Keith Williams, head of the Memphis teachers’ union. Instead of going after “billionaires” and “privatizers,” he goes after parents. “I am saying that some parents are not capable of determining venues that will be the most advantageous for their children,” he condescendingly tells Stark. “That is a fact.”
You probably won’t be surprised, in watching the story, that Mr. Williams made that statement from the safety of his own office, and not at a school board meeting.